by Max Brantley
Arkansas State University is negotiating with O’Reilly Hospitality Management LLC for a land lease agreement that would develop a potential Embassy Suites hotel, a conference center and Houlihan’s restaurant on campus, Chancellor Tim Hudson said today.
The project is designed to bolster the Northeast Arkansas economy through increased tourism, serve A-State constituencies and generate auxiliary revenue for the university, Hudson said. The university would receive revenue from the development, and O’Reilly Hospitality would invest between $35 million and $45 million to finance the project.
“We’re encouraged by the opportunities to enhance learning for our students, increase revenues for the university and serve our city and region,” said Hudson, noting the university would work with O’Reilly to incorporate joint educational opportunities and internships in areas such as hospitality management and marketing. “The initial feasibility study feedback indicates market demand for these facilities. We look forward to working with Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin and other city leaders as we escalate Arkansas State’s position as a destination and a driver for tourism and hospitality related economic growth.”
As CEO Tim O’Reilly works through the franchise process with Hilton Worldwide, the proposed property would have approximately 200 full-service rooms, and plans call for a 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot conference center with a Houlihan’s franchise restaurant attached. The university and O’Reilly agree that the preferred location for the hotel and convention center is an 11-acre site between Red Wolf Boulevard (U.S. 49) and Olympic Drive where the track and field complex was previously located. Centennial Bank Stadium, the Convo, Fowler Center and Cooper Alumni Center surround the site.
O’Reilly is one of two development firms chosen through a procurement process for the project.
“We’re excited about partnering with Arkansas State and the city of Jonesboro to develop a modern, full-service hotel and meeting space in northeast Arkansas,” O’Reilly said. “Ultimately this development will have a substantial positive impact on the region and make Jonesboro competitive to attract dozens of state and regional events.”
Shawnie Carrier, the chancellor’s Chief of Staff and interim director of the Delta Center for Economic Development, said a feasibility study is being conducted by HVS Consulting and Valuation Services, a division of TS Worldwide LLC. Carrier, the project leader for A-State, said the results are expected soon.
“We all see long-term strength in the local hotel market and a location that will be convenient for overnight visitors attending events on campus,” Carrier said. “The conference center will drive business not only to our hotel and restaurant, but also to many other lodging and dining facilities.”
Perrin said he has advocated a conference center and full-service hotel for seven years and is “thrilled” to see the progress.
“Increasing the number of conventions and visitors to the city will help retailers, restaurants and other hotels,” Perrin said. “The impact on our city will be enormous, and we will do everything we can to support the efforts of Arkansas State and O’Reilly Hospitality.”
A-State and O’Reilly are negotiating the ground lease agreement for the project with a planned construction start during the second half of the year.